Do as We Say…

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The members of the media buzzed late last week over the disclosure that a high-ranking CIA official, Mary McCarthy, had been fired by the agency for admitting to being Dana Priest’s source for her Pulitzer prize-winning articles in November detailing allegations of secret CIA prisons across the globe.

Slight problem though: McCarthy claims that not only was she innocent of the leak, she didn’t even have access to the information in question. But at even the whiff of someone disagreeing with the president, the right-wing media went into attack mode, with Rush Limbaugh summing up the conventional wisdom which held that the press had a double standard in covering this leak, compared to their coverage of Scooter Libby’s alleged leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name. On his April 24 show, Limbaugh called the two leaks “part of a giant concocted scheme to bring down the Bush administration, particularly in the elections of 2004.”

Limbaugh was (for him) appropriately apoplectic over reports in which reporters referred to McCarthy as a “whistleblower.” He whined, “If you’re a Republican and you leak, why, you’re a leaker, you’re a criminal. If you’re a Democrat, you’re a whistleblower, a hero, a potential Time magazine Person of the Year.” Human Events, which was defining right-wing as over the top when Limbaugh was still in diapers, also tried to tie McCarthy to the Plame/Wilson/Libby case. The first paper to give Ann Coulter a home base naturally reached for the “traitor” appellation — and insisted “50 years after communist infiltration at the State Department, there exists, still, in high places of government leftist ideologues whose allegiance is not to the United States as a sovereign nation with its own interests but to a utopian ideology.” That’s right: Commies.

Issues of guilt and innocence aside, what these right-wing self-styled patriots purposely ignore is the obvious difference between someone who leaks information for patently patriotic ends — i.e., stopping their nation from the crime of creating a secret gulag or lying the nation into war, and those who do so for narrow, partisan political gain, as Libby, Bush, Cheney and possibly Rove did. In the Libby case, the Bush administration made a decision to out a CIA agent in order to discredit her husband’s refutation of the president’s phony State of the Union claim of a potential acquisition of uranium by Saddam Hussein from the African nation of Niger. In McCarthy’s case, what she’s accused of is letting the nation know what its government was doing against international law but in its citizens’ names.

Writing in the National Journal Tuesday, reporter Murray Waas quoted a “former senior intelligence official” at the CIA as saying that in McCarthy’s position, she was expected to talk to the press on occasion and that, “Mary is somebody that they are using to set an example.” Writing on TPM Café, former intelligence official Larry Johnson explained, “What we are witnessing is a political purge of the CIA. The Bush Administration is working to expel and isolate any intelligence officer who does not toe the line and profess allegiance to George. It is no longer about protecting and defending the Constitution. No. It is about protecting the indefensible reputation of George Bush.”

Ignored amidst much of the hoopla surrounding McCarthy and Rove, was the report on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Friday in which Tyler Drumheller — a 26-year veteran of the CIA — came forward to claim that, in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration actively played up intelligence that fit the president’s decision to go to war, while ignoring intelligence that did not. Of course we knew this. But consider the source. Drumheller was the CIA’s top official and head of covert operations in Europe until he retired a year ago. He told CBS that he witnessed firsthand how the White House publicized certain intelligence that supported its case while ignoring the rest. “The idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy,” he said. “It was going to happen one way or the other.”

The crux of Drumheller’s complaint revolves around Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister. In the fall of 2002, he turned CIA informant and revealed Iraqi military secrets. While the Bush administration was initially excited about the source, Sabri told his CIA handlers that Iraq had no active WMD program and no real nuclear program. After that, Drumheller discovered, “The group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they’re no longer interested. And we said, ‘Well, what about the intel?’ And they said, ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.’” While the White House refused to comment on Drumheller’s accusations, Secretary of State Condi Rice has said, according to CBS, that Sabri was merely one source, “and therefore his information wasn’t reliable.”

Excuse me. Wasn’t that drunken, unreliable fellow, “Screw—,” um, “Curveball,” the infamous Iraqi source controlled by the German intelligence agency who warned of his unreliability, “merely one source?” And yet Colin Powell’s infamous February 2003 Security Council speech relied heavily on the nonsense he was selling because it fit perfectly with the nonsense Powell, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were retailing before the world.

And yet once again, we’re being told, the problem is not with the administration, but with the media. The American people have been to this movie before. It’s cost them thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and the respect of the world. This time, however, nobody’s buying.

Author’s note: In last week’s “Think Again,” I wrote “The Washington Post’s David Finkel’s series on a U.S. funded program to promote democracy in Yemen…exposed the sordid reality behind the Bush administration rhetoric of democracy promotion, demonstrating the messy reality it faces where the proverbial rubber hits the road.” I apologize if the imprecision of my language implied a criticism of the hard work done by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and particularly its people on the ground in Yemen. My intended point was that Finkel’s three-part study demonstrated the intense difficulties of democracy building programs, as the president’s careless rhetoric would appear to suggest. NDI’s efforts in Yemen were unfortunately thwarted by local conditions, but I remain filled with awe and admiration for their commitment to a worthy — perhaps impossible — goal.

Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His most recent, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, was just published in paperback.




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Eric Alterman

Senior Fellow

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